Blog Past: Role of Government

From my Gov 2.0 series a year ago:

India needs a deep rethink on the role of government in our lives.

I wrote much of this series on an Air-India flight back from New York to Mumbai. What business does the government of India have running an airline? What business does it have taking taxpayers money time and again and putting it into white elephants? Questions like these cut to the heart of the debate around the role of government.

It is time for us Indians to realize that the government has failed us over the last six decades. If the government had done its job competently, India would have been a better country. We would have had 100% literacy two generations ago. We would have growth rates to match China’s – not for 5 years, but for 30 years. We would not have 500 million poor (more than three times the absolute number from 1947). We would not have pathetic urban infrastructure. We would not have 70% of the country’s population still engaged in agriculture. We would not have power cuts.

Some of us may delight in the near 9% growth that we now see. But we have to also understand that this growth is on a very low base.

The US is going through a difficult period right now on the economic front, with very low growth. But before we gloat about our growth rate, let us step back and see what the US has achieved through its relatively short history. For example, can the Indian transportation system compare to the American?  Are we anywhere close to the American education system? Clearly not since most of our best and brightest make their way to the US for higher education – and often stay there after their education. (Not just the best and the brightest, the children of Indian leaders get their education abroad.)

Sitting through the conference and listening to speakers from within and outside government, I could not but help think that once again the US is showing its ability to question, rethink and come up with better solutions. There is a recognition that the government systems they have had need change, and there is a healthy debate on how that needs to be done.

Obama may have failed on some fronts, but his Open Government initiative is helping bring about perhaps the greatest transformation in how government works. Even though these Gov 2.0 changes will not be immediately visible to all and will have some hiccups on the way, they will have far-reaching positive consequences for the US in the coming years. That is in keeping with the US spirit of resilience and reinvention.

One thought on “Blog Past: Role of Government

  1. Well said and I share your thoughts. The Indian government has not done it’s job. It’s become an entity (a very large one, I might add) that essentially serves the need of a few, not the many that it’s supposed to serve. Now, at the same token, I beleive it is the people of India who also need to shoulder the blame. We, the people have not been effective in participating in process of governance. Merely exercising our voting rights is not good enough.

    In the U.S, I am astounded by the participation of the community in all things local. From funding a local library, swimming pool, building roads etc. There is good bottoms up participation that percolates upstream to the senators/governors and so forth.

    Community participation is severely lacking and our general response is that somebody else will take care of business. That somebody is nobody but you. If folks don’t push their local government and not participate in the process (panchayat, gram-sabha, ward meetings etc etc), it essentially gives the people’s representatives a free reign. And, I beleive that’s why we are in this position. Yes, I understand that the average Ram/Shyam is busy trying to make a living – but as much as they can participate in the system, the better off that community/neighborhood will be.

    It boggles my mind, that in a land of such smart people, we are unable to build one good road.

    I also believe that the levels of frustration in India have reached record levels – as witnessed in the August protests. That’s good. We need to keep pushing and letting our representative know that we are watching them and they better do the people’s business or else…

    Thanks for taking a listen to my rant… 🙂